5 Ways to Stretch Your Summer Vacation Dollars

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Fears of a double-dip recession are no doubt crippling a lot of people’s summer travel plans. Between small business owners who are canceling their vacations altogether to families planning yet another year of staycations, this can be pretty sour news to swallow. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from the past several years of recession, it’s that there are ways to get around the high costs of anything, from buying a new huge flat-screen TV to traveling in style, as long as you follow a few frugal rules.

In fact, a new survey from MasterCard and Harris Interactive actually shows that 87% of people plan to spend more this summer on their own travel and entertainment than they did before. But dig down into the data, and you can see that while they’re planning on shelling out a high dollar figure, they want to get more bang for their buck. The same percentage — 87% of respondents — plan to “take action to get a better deal on travel,” presumably by comparison shopping, going to deal sites that aggregate special offers, looking for deals at the last minute and booking travel that comes with extras.

“People are looking for some fun, but it’s practical fun,” says Melody Miller, Senior Vice President, Emerging Payments for MasterCard.
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If you’re interested in saving money but still want to go somewhere, there are indeed ways to get a great deal on travel for less. You might not be cruising first class to Europe on the Queen Mary 2, but you could fly coach and then go instead on a 10-day Royal Caribbean cruise along the coast of Greece for $899 a person. When there’s a will, there’s a way, and you’d be getting out of town and helping Greece’s economy at the same time.

What other ways can you save?

Go Local, But Far Away
One easy way to broaden the borders of your staycation is to use local deals to save money on your next vacation. While you might have become accustomed to Groupon notices flooding your inbox for your own town, think what you might get if you widen your horizons? And this is especially so if you already have a destination in mind for a summer jaunt. A couple of weeks before your trip, just start scouring the local deals for your destination. If that sounds cumbersome, let somebody else do the work for you. Sites like dealnews.com aggregate the best local deals from around the country, allow you to pick spotlight cities that are not your own hometown and will send you email alerts or ping your phone when something good comes along.

Any Port in an Economic Storm
If you’re in a cruising mood this summer, then you will certainly be able to find a deal that meets your price point. One thing to consider is finding a cruise line that leaves from a port closer to home. This will be easier for residents of Baltimore than Des Moines, but the advice is still valid nonetheless. There’s no reason to pay a premium to fly to Miami or New York (and pay for any overnight stays in those overpriced cities), when cruise lines like Carnival and Norwegian leave from a variety of ports. Even Disney is expanding its range, and starting in 2012 will be adding calls in Seattle, Galveston and Los Angeles.
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Save on Gas Mileage
All of us are worried about gas these days, but while prices bounce around, travelers don’t seem to be planning on taking any chances. The MasterCard/Harris survey found that while their respondents planned on spending 46% more on fuel this summer, a cool 60% were at the same time planning to take fewer road trips. Instead of curtailing your plans drastically, one way to get more for less is to put an effort into finding ways to get cheap gas and to getting better performance out of your car. The fixes can be as simple as downloading an app to your phone to find the cheapest gas prices in your area to replacing your oxygen sensor.

Truly Get More for Your Buck
Want to really get a bargain? Get some extras thrown in with your travel deal. Nothing makes plunking down your credit card for a huge charge go down smoother than getting a little something on the side for free. Freebies that are going around lately range from free travel insurance on Caribbean vacations booked during hurricane season to a free Kindle with a hotel stay booked through Hotels.com. There have also been things like whitewater rafting trips tossed into vacation packages in Colorado, or plenty of free mile offers from airlines and airline credit cards.

Delay, Delay, Delay
The “d” word is the bane of every traveler’s existence, but it’s better than the “c” word — cancellation. So if you’re unsure of what you want to do or where you want to go or if you’ll have enough money to do anything at all, just delay rather than cancel. If a trip comes up that works for you, you can snag a deal. Best bets are to keep tabs on travel deal aggregators and set up alerts for yourself to get emails when a particular destination hits your price point. The best alert to get is for JetBlue fare sales. These pop up out of the blue, usually have amazing prices with limited gimmicks (unlike, say, Spirit, which advertises outrageously low fares that end up costing way more), but they sell out in minutes.